We Have Entered a Frightening State in Rabbinic Leadership

Preface- The article below first appeared as my comment on my January 16, 2011 post, “What was Weingarten’s Strategy When He Decided to Be His Own Lawyer in Incest Trial?” I was replying to a reader who commented on the absurdity of prominent rabbis who defend the likes of Yisroel Moshe Weingarten and Elior Chen. I thank my reader “Shragi Getzel” who suggested turning that comment into a free-standing post.

We have entered a frightening stage in rabbinic leadership where investigating facts is considered old fashioned. Many important bans have been issued without allowing the target to defend himself. Usually the askanim tell the gadol that the target is not willing to come in. In fact virtually all the targets would have been willing to reply.

In contrast, consider how the kehilah of Amsterdam dealt with a true apikores, Baruch (Benedict) Spinoza. After two witnesses reported his views to the kehilah, his former teacher, Rabbi Saul Morteira interrogated him about his views, which Spinoza honestly admitted. Rabbi Morteira met with him several times to attempt to persuade to give up those views. Only then was there a collective decision and he was excommunicated.

But of course we can not be so lenient when Nosson Kaminetsky writes in his book that his father and Aaron Kotler read Russian novels when they were young and Aaron Kotler had quite a temper in later years. Such a book must be banned without talking to the author or even negotiating with him about changing the book. Obviously telling the truth is dangerous. It could lead to others also telling the truth. It could lead to an epidemic of truth.

The Chazon Ish once said that most bad psak results not from ignorance of halachah but from ignorance of metsius. As roshei yeshiva have displaced communal rabbonim they have not accepted the rov’s responsibility to know the local situation. Instead they let askanim define reality for them.

Now some will be angry at the askanim. And we should be. But the rabbonim are responsible for being able to interrogate and evaluate the askanim on whom they rely. All US Supreme Court Justices rely on their clerks to get through their heavy work loads. However, the clerks know that if they ever deceive a Justice they will be fired. Apparently askanim know they can lie and get away with it. That is the fault of the rabbonim.

There is also an increasing tendency to evaluate everyone by external simonim of frumkeit without paying careful attention to the basic menschlichkeit and honesty. So this combination of facts makes it easy for Elyashiv to sign a letter about a man, Elior Chen who” is being persecuted and only acts for good!!”

Then it gets still worse. There is immense competition among rabbonim for money, followers, yichus in shidduchim, hechsherim, etc. Many actions are undertaken for political motives. Strangely, the most neglected aspect of halachah is negius, consideration of how one’s self interest makes it impossible to be impartial. Unfortunately, everything is political. Sadly, I think that negius cannot be allowed to matter and won’t matter where everyone is nogeiah b’davar.

Yes there are some very erlich yidden and rabbonim. But they are out of power. If they tried to be in power and spoke up they were pushed out. If they stayed in powerful circles they were eventually corrupted. Virtually no one of true integrity will join the moetzes of Agudah. Nor should they. The Moetzes includes Aaron Shechter of Chaim Berlin who ignored a hazmonoh from Moshe Feinstein as well as the satmar bes din. Yet Agudah had the chutzpah to say parents should go to a special bes din they were going to set up before going to the police with sex abuse problems. apparently the obligation of bes din only applies to stam yidden. Similarly Aaron and Zalman Leib Teitelbaum ended up in arcaos. Each claims they were permitted because the other one wouldn’t settle matters in bes din. No matter who you believe one of them was definitely in arcaos and probably both. Yet they too will thunder about another yid who goes to court. The present Munkatcher Rebbe went to arcaos to fight for a share of his father’s yerushah bigger than what he was given in the will. Yet the Munkatcher speaks against mesirah if it is a parent reporting a molester to the police. Actually, great poskim in the Eidah such as Moshe Halberstam, z’l and Moshe Sternbuch support such reporting. But that doesn’t matter because the Munkatcher’s main business these days is pidyon shvuyim which has been misused to mean even keeping pedophiles out of jail so they can continue to be rodfim who destroy the lives of children.

So that is our matzav. Politicized leaders, and intimidated erlich people. The internet however, will help level the playing field. People will put up with a lot. But their livelihoods, schools and children’s lives are being devastated. That is too much to ask and it cannot go on indefinitely.

If change needs to come from the bottom up, that is what will happen.


Fedora Tip to Shragi Getzel


2 thoughts on “We Have Entered a Frightening State in Rabbinic Leadership

  1. Very prescient: the rabbonim (with a few exceptions) have gone from bad to worse, and the internet is definitely starting to make a positive contribution in exposing the rot.

  2. And why are the Rabbis trying to silence all media reports that Harold Herskowitz is running for State Senate in New Jersey? Herskowitz encouraged the family of Kolko’s victim when others shunned them. Can this be the payback by BMG? The Yeshiva is supporting the meshumed who left his frum wife for his Italian shiksa secretary, over a ben Torah who does countless acts of chesed? This situation is beyond messed up!

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